Branching Out

The two forms in the photo are from the branch of a cherry tree that an acquaintance had taken down. The colorful bowl a few blogs back is also from that same tree. I saw a similar looking candle holder over the weekend and was inspired to try to copy it.

I’ve heard that a lot of art students learn by copying the masters. That rings true for me, whether it’s in software engineering or statistics or woodworking. Trying to replicate what somebody else has done, following in their footsteps, can be enlightening. It also off-loads the cognitive burden of having to create the form/design from scratch while also trying to learn how to execute everything. In this case I’d never tried to drill into end-grain like this, and had to improvise a system for chucking the form while drilling. Even that simple act had lots of decision points – when to drill? Turns out drilling *after* sanding is best – once it’s drilled it can be hard to center again on the lathe.

I’m still – very slowly and deliberately – working on the dining chairs. Not so much deliberately – I guess it’s more accurate to say I’m really not in any hurry. That’s why I have more confidence these will turn out well. It’s almost like the Zen “non-attachment” thing – I’ll just do it as the mood strikes, be totally in the moment, and not looking to be done. Over the weekend I cut all the major pieces – now I have to drill out the mortises in the front legs and cut tenons into all the rails. I’m going to try using the bandsaw for tenon cutting – safer and faster than the table saw jig I use, but potentially not as accurate. I’ll try some practice cuts and see…

Lots more going on – “meaning of life” questions and all. I’ll save those for later (if at all; still a little shy about sharing the deep inner stuff). 😉


Pause, center, proceed

It’s been a while! I’ve taken a break from the chairs to play with some bowl turning. I was driving to work the other day and saw that the city tree folks had taken down a tree, and left some nice short logs perfect for bowl turning. Jury’s still out on exactly what sort of tree it was (best bet is liquid amber), but I’ve been having fun playing with rough bowls. (The picture above shows a nearly finished bowl based on the cherry limb a friend gave me last year).

Meanwhile, I developed a gnarly blister and abscess on my toe, so that kept me from walking around a lot this past week. My condo shows it! As much as I want to get back to my chair making, I’m looking around this morning and seeing total chaos. Time to pause, clean up the messes, and then move forward. It’s not always fun to do the maintainence, but I appreciate it afterward.

On top of all of this, a good friend of mine was recently diagnosed with colon cancer that has spread to her liver. No news yet on the prognosis, but my gut says it’s not good. What is it about turning 40! I seem to know people left and right who are hearing cancer diagnoses, and 40 is way too young… Anyway, I’m worried, sad, angry… and trying to take it in stride…

So I think today is a slower, self-care and meditative day. I usually go up to Oakland and see my sweetie on Sat night, and we have plans to work on a mosaic project at the Institute for Mosaic Art tomorrow.

Penny wise, pound foolish?

In my last entry I ruminated a bit about whether I’d made a mistake in deciding to glue up sandwiches of 4/4 mahogany in order to get 2″ stock, rather than just buy 2″ stock to start with. It turns out to be nearly identically priced per board foot (a board foot is a unit of volume 12″ x 1″ x 1″). In the end gluing up seemed to work out OK in some cases, but not in others.

Here is what I did: I took two 8″ wide by 14-foot long boards, cut them into 28″ lengths, and glued together pairs of them in sandwiches. I just stacked them one atop the other and clamped them in parallel. It seemed like a good idea at the time, and I thought I was using plenty of glue. (I can’t link directly to my photos from here – you’ll have to go to the photo album to see them).

The first clue was after I’d clamped them up, there were places where I didn’t see any glue “squeeze-out.” This usually means I hadn’t applied sufficient glue and was starving the joint. Sure enough, as I started cutting the stock into the final dimensions for table pieces, that is what I saw.

If you go to my photo library you’ll see a close-up of the failed glue joints. No good. Those joints are weak, and also indicate some stresses in the wood that might tend to open up the gap wider. Mind you, not all of my pieces had this, only a few. But it does mean I have to re-cut some. And while I’m at it, I might want to reconsider the whole idea of using a lamination. That means another trip to the lumber yard this weekend to pick up some 8/4 stock.

Surprisingly, I’m using less wood than I thought I would. I need to go back over my calculations when I first bought the wood. I think I was planning on gluing up a 4-ply lamination (to get to nearly 4″) before I had the bright idea of actually buying some 8/4 stock and just gluing a 2-ply with that. Again, what I don’t use now will go into the chairs.

Meanwhile, I do have a photo of most of the pedastle and some of the sliding rail pieces cut out. Notice the feet sitting on top of the stool? 🙂 Also notice the ghostly smudges in the photo? This is air-borne sawdust getting caught in the flash. It was invisible to my naked eye, which is why I religiously wear a decent respirator whenever I’m cutting up wood. I’m not allergic to mahogany, but I did discover I’m allergic to lacewood (as is much of the population), and that once made my arms itch for an entire week. Glad not to have it in my lungs, too.

Ecological Concerns

I had a disturbing thought last night. I’d heard of “certified” lumber in passing – this is lumber that is certified as coming from well-managed, ecologically sound timber harvests. In particular, it is not wood that is slashed out of dwindling rain forests, etc. I started looking around the web for certification agencies, and it turns out there are several (some run by the timber industry, some more inclusive in their membership). One, for example, is the Forest Stewardship Council.
As I was poking around at what counted as “ecologically sound” wood to use, I kept seeing that basically anything out of South America or Africa was likely to be a no-no. Great. Guess where my Mahogany comes from? Never mind some of the fun exotics I use in my pen turning (although I feel slightly better knowing these are generally waste scraps that would otherwise go into the trash or a fireplace).

I believe in leaving a light footprint on the planet. I bought a Toyota Prius when it was time for a new car not for the mileage, but for the incredibly low emissions. The Prius, incidentally is optimized for low-emissions over fuel economy. It will actually run the engine at times (burning fuel) to keep the catalytic converter hot (trimming emissions). Believe it or not, burning a little extra fuel goes a long way to reducing overall emissions. But I digress…

I also don’t eat Chilean Sea Bass due to over-fishing and actual piracy over this fish. I support good environmental causes; heck, until the last election (in order to vote in the Democratic Primary) I was a registered member of the Green Party of California. (Note to self: re-register!!!). I buy organic produce and meat whenever possible.

I now realize I need to pay more attention to the wood I consume, too. As much as ebony, bloodwood, padauk, etc., are absolutely gorgeous when finished, they are all relatively rare and in most cases probably unsustainably harvested. 😦 I’m really bummed. For my furniture projects this isn’t terribly relevant – I like the domestic hardwoods of Maple, Walnut, and Cherry anyway. It’s the pen-turning and small gift making that’s going to take a hit, but I need to do the right thing. I’m preparing some items for a work-related craft faire in December, and would like to be able to claim I only use sustainably harvested wood.

If I’d realized this two months ago I would have gone with Cherry for my dining set. But now I have a load of Mahogany on my hands, and frankly it’d be a huge pain to try to take it back. I’m going to live with the choice, do this dining set, and from this day forward endeavor to never create a demand for non-certified exotic hardwoods. (I reserve the right to rummage through cut-off bins for scraps, though! As long as I’m not creating an economic demand for it).

Well, that’s it for tonight. Later this week I’ll take a second look at the pieces I’ve just cut up, decided which I need to re-do, and whether others will just look too ugly as laminations. Some of those pieces are going to be interior parts to the sliders, so you’ll never really see them. Some, though, will be quite visible, and I’ve got to make sure that either the laminations aren’t terribly visible, or that after being sanded and stained dark the contrast is more pleasant. We’ll see.

Live and learn!

Subtleties of wood

I was experimenting with turning a Redwood pen. Redwood is a soft wood, used mainly for outdoor fencing and furniture here in California. It’s also fairly light. I’ve only turned hardwoods to date, and was curious how Redwood would look, as I know when it’s oiled it’s got a fairly pretty color. I had a scrap with a knot in one end, so turned that into a pen. It’s light! I also suspect it won’t wear very well – a quick way to tell whether a wood is “soft” or “hard” is whether you can dent it with a fingernail easily. I’m curious what this pen would look like after a year of wear and tear.

But the interesting part came when I want to turn an ebony pen for myself. I keep my pen blanks and scraps in little bins sorted by wood type. Usually I take a 5″ length of wood, cut it in half, and those become the two parts of my pen. The grain lines match up through the center band, producing a nice continuity.

Ebony runs from very dark brown to black, with occasional light streaks. Trying to be “economical” I grabbed two short pieces, set them up for turning, and began the pen. It wasn’t until I was in the final sanding stages that I noticed something was off – the bottom barrel was a lot lighter than the top. The top was pure, cool black, while the bottom was brownish. Ooops! Then I had to figure out what other pieces of ebony might match those two (came from the same sources), and I think I came close but not perfect. Fortunately, when wiped with BLO the ebony darkened quite a bit, so subtle mis-matches don’t show as readily.

Somehow I managed to forget that ebony was wood like any other, with natural, organic variations in tone and grain. It’s so dark and uniform it’s tempting to think of it as a manufactured material like acrylic. It’s not.

I was going to write something profound about the wood halves not being interchangeable – like pairs of people – but somehow the thought has slipped away…